This book is an intense read, and distinctly off-kilter from the standard fare I run into. I stumbled across it after reading one of his young adult super hero books. In this case the main character is extremely distinct and stands out well amidst an absolutely insane mish-mash of children’s fantasy stories given life. ‘Quite Contrary’ runs a close second to ‘Sweet Dreams Are Made of Teeth’, another book by the same author.
A few housekeeping comments; This book follows a female main character. In the start she has a near brush with being raped – it’s a little fuzzy because the first few pages go by fast. She runs away into a hiding place and finds a rat-in-boots. Not to be confused with puss-in-boots – then things go from weird and edge of sanity to downright crazy.
The main theme of the story is her running away from a big bad wolf, and in some ways the story feels almost like an allegory for the events in the opening scene of her book. There is an awkward coming of age sexual tension, disgust, self-hatred, and a lot of other emotions that are brought up. Part of me often is left wondering if the story is a mad imagining in the mind of our main character.
We see the Big Bad Wolf because the main character dons the Red Riding Hood, which comes with the ‘curse’ of turning all girls who dare so into targets for the wolf. Naturally the ending is death in this twisted fantasy land she’s slipped into. So she runs from one story to the next, dealing with their fictional worlds, escape evil witches and sinking platforms to find a safe location. All the while at her back is the Big Bad Wolf, who keeps demolishing other people’s fairy tales.
The writing isn’t perfect, there are spots where it feels like we’re dealing with an angsty teen – and those items take a story I’ve read multiple times from the five down to a four. The characters are less like personalities and closer to a thin set of drives that don’t gel into life (and this may be the point given the plot premise). In a lot of ways we have a main character with their past, and her only real focus is surviving and running away from it; the depth beyond that point is lacking.
Still, the book is still a very interesting read simply for the premise alone. After all, if the amount a story is told gives power, then Little Red Riding Hood is one of the more popular, and stronger tales around. In this case we get a lot of familiar elements but in a very new light. In this manner it feels almost like Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’ – if only because we’re dealing with things that are rooted in peoples thoughts and take a certain amount of strength from humanities subconscious.